My Failures of 2017
It’s that time again where everyone floods the internet with thoughts and feelings on what they’ve accomplished over the past year.
After reading a few already, most of these articles feel a little too self-aggrandizing. Instead of truly reflecting on past failures and sharing lessons from each, most people simply share a list of accomplishments that says, “Look at me! Look at how productive I was this year!”
If you ask me, this is a lot like using your Instagram feed to give someone else an “objective” look at your life. We all know that behind the smiling selfies, brunch shots, and exotic sunsets you were living with insecurity, self-doubt, and countless failures.
Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to be vulnerable enough to share these failures. So, instead of the typical, “Hey, look how great I was this year!” post, I wanted to share my major failures and what I learned from each of them. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take something away (otherwise, this will be a little awkward…)
Failure #1: Collide Idea Jam (January 5)
My first failure came only after a few days into 2017. Towards the end of 2016, I launched Collide, a company that focuses on connecting people with shared ideas. Like most ideas these days, it started as an app. While I was designing it, I found a unique opportunity to mimic the goal of the app in real life. Enter Collide Events, or “networking events that don’t suck.” The idea: people submit their ideas and skills prior to the event, receive this breakdown beforehand, and show up with a general sense of who is there and how they can help.
After throwing the first standalone event at my local coworking center, my goal was to create an event format that could be “plugged” into an existing event. I decided to throw the Collide Idea Jam at Venture Cafe, a networking event for local entrepreneurs.
Because of the massive crowd that usually attends (400–700 people), I had to hold the event in a side conference room, away from the foot traffic. Knowing this, I tweaked the standard format and created a fast-pitch layout where people could quickly share their ideas and receive instant feedback.
Unfortunately, only 12 people showed up, including a few supportive friends.
Lesson learned: When testing your idea with a new audience, don’t be afraid to stick to your guns and keep its original DNA intact.
Failure #2: Interview with Uber (January 9–15)
I have to admit: this one stung a little more than the others.
After seeing some of my work on Dribbble, I received an email from a design manager at Uber, asking if I was interested in applying for a product designer position. Even though I’m stubborn enough to have been freelancing my entire career, I know when to explore an opportunity.
What followed was a series of messages, a few phone interviews, and one very disappointing email (at the time):
At this point, you’ve probably heard or seen the massive PR shit show Uber brought on itself this past year: a toxic company culture brought to light by a former female engineer, Alphabet’s lawsuit against the company, the firing of CEO Travis Kalanick, the list goes on and on.
Not a single one of these missteps had been brought to light before I started interviewing. After learning more about what really happens behind the scenes, I decided to share my experience of the overall process.
Lesson learned: Don’t wait for opportunities to “fall in your lap.” Create your own each and every single day.
Failure #3: Coworking Web Series (February 21)
I’ve been working out of the same coworking center for over three years now and I can’t tell you how many quirky characters I’ve come across. In fact, since the early days of joining, I’ve privately documented all of the ridiculous things I’ve heard, knowing one day, I would be able to put it to good use.
On February 21, I met with a group of local comedy writers in order to pitch and discuss my idea for Coworking, a web series about the real and ridiculous things you come across while working in an “alternative workspace.”
This meeting turned into a few other meetings, which turned into a few scripts for a pilot episode, which turned into…nothing.
As many of you know, it’s way too easy to let your idea die a slow, painful death; no one likes to kill their babies. What started out as a web series with a lot of potential turned into another orphan, added to the pile of other lost ideas.
Thanks to my stubbornness, I refused to let this idea die entirely, which is why I created a post that shares each of the characters I created for this series. I plan on using this as a reference for a future book, or possibly a second stab at a web series.
Lesson learned: Ideas are inherently worthless; execution makes them valuable. They can also exist in many different formats.
Failure #4: Collide Cards (March 30)
As you can probably tell from failure #1, I’m extremely passionate about helping others connect over shared ideas. So much so, that I wanted to expand the Collide concept past physical events and into a physical card game. On March 30, I convinced a few friends (with the help of free beer) to brainstorm what “Collide Cards” might look like.
Luckily for me, a few of my friends started Genius Games, a company that makes science-based books and games. If anyone knew how to successfully launch a card game, it would be them.
During the brainstorm, they continuously challenged me to simplify the game mechanics and focus on one specific person. As much as this made sense, I tried to convince them that I had three specific target groups for the game (the same three for Collide Events):
- Freelancers and solopreneurs
- Startups and founders
Unfortunately, Collide Cards never made it past that initial brainstorm. Like most ideas, it became less of a priority compared to other projects.
Lesson learned: Once you identify people with the experience you need, stop talking and start listening.
Failure #5: Collide for Companies (April 15)
Yes, there is definitely a trend going on here. I’m very stubborn, and in case you couldn’t tell, I wasn’t joking when I said I’m REALLY passionate about connecting people with shared ideas.
For this version, I thought about how I could bring the Collide experience to larger corporations. Since the initial Collide format involved some basic design sprint principles, I thought I could take the popular startup methodology and adapt it to corporate America.
Just like before, I rounded up everyone I knew who works for larger companies and got them all around the same table. To make things a little more actionable, I showed them a basic “getting started guide” for Collide for Companies. After picking it apart and raising some very good questions, I began to dive in and expand the entire process.
What followed were countless hours of drafting, tweaking, and formatting. After I finally poked my head up, I realized this wasn’t as innovative as I thought. In fact, it was the exact same design sprint format, just rebranded under Collide. Once I noticed this, I realized I couldn’t, in good conscience, sell this as my own product.
Lesson learned: Test your ideas early and often. Otherwise, you will fall in love with them and waste way too much time.
Failure #6: Leaving A Client (December 15)
And now for my most recent failure.
Back in September, my friend and business partner introduced me to the founders of a live streaming, e-commerce app. They were looking for two people with UX and development experience (respectively) and we just happened to have it. Fast-forward through several weeks of phone calls, emails, and video chats, and I had a contract in front of me for more money than I had ever received from any one of my freelance clients.
The only issue is they wanted to bring both of us on full-time.
This brought up my biggest debate of the year:
Do I join someone else’s team and help them build their product, or do I stay true to myself and continue building my own company.
In order to retain some of my freedom, I emphasized that if I was to come aboard, it would be as a contractor who is giving 40 hours a week.
After a few more meetings, we all agreed and went full steam ahead.
From September until a few weeks ago, I was enjoying a very competitive weekly income, a nice office in Clayton, and the chance to partner with major brands.
So, why did I leave?
I felt complacency creeping in.
Yes, paying rent is important. Yes, part of being an adult is doing things you don’t want to do. However, as someone who has become more self-aware, I knew a steady paycheck would eventually win over creating my own path.
Since this is still relatively fresh, I do still feel an iota of self-doubt.
Did I make the right decision? Who gets to decide what “right” means in the first place? Ultimately, I do.
Lesson learned: As hard as it might be, define what success looks like to you and then stick to your guns.
Well, that about does it. These are only the major failures that I could remember over the past year. As always, there were plenty of smaller ones day-in and day-out. As I look forward into 2018, my goal is to reflect more often so I can course-correct sooner.
Who knows? Maybe sharing failures will become the new year in review? Maybe we will all become a little more comfortable with vulnerability and help each other learn and grow.
Here’s to a more open and honest 2018!